Tag Archives: Miniseries

Only the Rocks Live Forever

3 Jul

My dad and I just finished our multi-week project of watching Centennial, the 1970s miniseries covering the history of a fictional Colorado town. Lasting over 26 hours, the movie follows the lives of people who influenced the area and help found the town. Native Americans. Trappers. Mountain men. Pioneers. Farmers. Cowboys. The list goes on and on. All of the people you can think of from the history of the West are represented.

As we watched Centennial, several ideas swept through my mind. First was the fact that this was a well-made movie, and, although it was based on a work of fiction, accurately portrayed the history of the West better than just about any movie I have seen. It showed the lives of ordinary people and the complexities they faced. After all, they were living in a hard land that was taken from someone else.

Once my mind wrapped itself around the quality of the movie, the storyline began to remind me why I chose history as a profession. In the final episode, a historian shows up to research the town for an article. When he arrives in the village of 2,000 people, he wonders why he has been given the assignment of writing about a town he had never heard of with founders who only the locals remembered. Then, he began to hear the stories of the characters that we had been watching.

I suppose that I am not making sense, but the historian discovered that the little town of Centennial had an interesting history of regular people living regular lives. That’s what history is really about. Sometimes, we get caught up in the deeds of famous people and forget that history is made by everyone.

My next thought – actually, feeling – was a sense of sadness that hit me on several levels. Centennial takes the viewer through several generations of families, which means we are watching their lives and their deaths. We see them starting life with youthful exuberance and ending it after triumphs and tragedies. History isn’t just about the lives of people but also about their deaths.

As I watched the lives of these characters pass before my eyes, I also realized that my dad, like the older men in the movie, has already lived the majority of his life. He is the rock of our family and has accomplished more than I could ever imagine. Yet, he is getting more feeble as time passes, and there will be a time when he will pass away. Then, it will truly be up to my brother and me to carry on the beliefs and ideals of our family.

My dad and I have done a lot of things together. He took me to my first University of Tennessee football game when I was 6, and we have been going ever since. It’s just that he doesn’t make it to as many games as he used to. Together, we have traveled through all 50 states because he wanted me to see historic sites and natural wonders. I saw that watching this movie is another thing that we could do together. As we watched, he would have me pause it to tell him the real history of what the movie was portraying.

As the last episode ended, I was sad because a movie that I enjoyed and invested in had come to an end. I was sad because this experience with my dad had come to an end, and I fear the time when I will not be able to have more experiences with him. I was sad because the movie reminded me something that I had forgotten as I teach about people in the pages of history books. As a line in Centennial says, “Only the rocks live forever.”

On the Wings of Thorn Birds and the Winds of War

8 Jun

Have you ever noticed that television is filled with copycats? Let one show succeed, and the networks clamor with a plethora of similar shows. That’s why the airwaves are currently filled with reality shows and crime lab dramas. That’s why a few years ago we had dozens of game shows with contestants trying to become millionaires. That’s also why television from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s was dominated by miniseries – dramas, usually based on popular novels, that spanned a few nights. They were must-see TV back in the day.

This topic has entered my mind because I am in the middle of rewatching one of my favorites. As I have watched it, I have remember how millions of people got caught up in these shows, and it seemed as if the world stopped to see what would happen. The following are the ones that I remember the most.

Centennial – The one I am currently watching was based on a James Michener novel and lasted over 26 hours. It traced the history of a western town from the arrival of the first trapper until the 1970s and took viewers into the lives of the people who played a role in the history of the area. It was fictional but had some real history mixed in. It seemed to star every television personality of the day, including Richard Chamberlain.

Roots – The granddaddy of them all, this miniseries was based on the work of Alex Haley, a fellow Tennessean, as he traced his family’s history through slavery. Over 100 million people watched it finale, and it spawned two sequels. After this success, Haley was sued for plagiarism and admitted that some parts of his work were lifted from another source. It seemed to star every African-American actor of the day but did not include Richard Chamberlain.

The Thorn Birds – Based on a novel by Colleen McCullough, it was the second highest rated miniseries of all time. Admittedly, I did not watch this one, and I am not sure my parents did either. It is set in Australia and follows a woman who is in love with a priest. This causes her problems for obvious reasons. It had a bevy of well-known stars, including Richard Chamberlain.

Rich Man, Poor Man – I always thought that was a cool title. This one came early in the miniseries experiment and lasted seven weeks. Based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, it followed the differing paths of the Jordache brothers. Obviously, one became wealthy, although not by selling fashionable jeans, and the other one struggled to get by. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte played the brothers, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

Shogun – James Clavell’s novel was a fictionalized account of the life of William Adams. Don’t know who he is? Don’t worry, I don’t know either. However, I know that the main character is an Englishman named John Blackthorne, and he finds himself shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. After the wreck, he makes enemies and friends while trying to adjust to a different culture. The miniseries was filled with Japanese actors and Richard Chamberlain.

The Winds of War – Herman Wouk’s writing was the basis for this one as it details the years leading up to the entrance of the United States into World War II. It covers major world events during this period and their effects on two American families, the Henry’s and the Jastow’s. Robert Mitchum starred in this series, but it did not star Richard Chamberlain.

These are but a few examples of a genre that once thrived on the television sets of America. Obviously, I have missed several. If you have any favorites let me know.